Surprise OKs 8 pickleball courts for $500,000

Richard Smith
Independent Newsmedia

A month and a half after the Surprise City Council decided against voting on a measure to spend $500,000 on eight additional pickle ball courts in the Civic Center, it was back.

Tuesday night’s shot had some more power behind it. More than 100 pickleball players were in the council chambers and councilmen initially against  the measure, including Skip Hall and Ken Remley, reversed course.

“About a month ago at a meeting such as this I made a few comments and said, ‘Whoa, What are we doing spending half a million on pickleball?’ Sometimes you have to eat a little crow,” Councilman Remley said. “I found out why the revenues are as low as they are. They’re available to everybody 24/7 to use. At 7:30 in the morning five of eight courts were full. Then I came back at 3 in the afternoon and all eight courts were full with people waiting to get on.”

Councilmen Remley and Hall both said they were reassured by the source of these funds, a surplus of general fund money from the fiscal year 2016 budget. Surprise received more revenue that year and spent nearly $8 million less than projected, resulting in additional $10.6 million.

Since those figures were final, the city has used this money to pick off projects that have waited. Entering Tuesday’s meeting $2.5 million of that money remained.

Play at Surprise pickleball courts in 2014 (Courtesy Surprise Pickleball Association)

This source of funds did not get much attention at the Jan. 3 council meeting, nor did the fact that this pickleball project was originally part of the 2016 general obligation bond proposal before being pulled. In general, the council expressed concern that annual revenue would not be near operating expenses.

That changed the second time around as the council unanimously approved the $500,000 expense plus an attached $200,000 expenditure to build shade structures for playgrounds in as many as eight city parks.

“I have been a supporter of pickleball since I began on the council. I’ve always challenged them to bring economic impact and it’s always frustrated me that they couldn’t quite get a handle on it – they’ve talked about all these tournaments they’re going to draw with 16 courts but they’ve never really been able to make it concrete,” Councilman Hall said. “But at the last meeting we had, I failed to recognize the context with which it was being presented. Our city manager, who I trust explicitly, reached out to this pickle ball group and said, ‘We’ll take pickleball off the bond and I will really work hard to get you your pickle ball courts.’ I didn’t realize that. When we went 7-0 that really shook (Bob Wingenroth up) and I understand why. (Bob) was trying to follow through on a commitment he made.”

The eight new courts will be open to the public as well as adding to the unofficial base of operations of the Surprise. Construction should take six months, said Donna Miller, assistant director of Community and Recreation Services.

Built on land west of the current courts, the new pickleball courts will require a move of four sand volleyball courts, possibly north of Dreamcatcher Park.

Councilman John Williams remained the most skeptical because of the list of projects left over from that failed bond proposal, some of which Surprise may have to pick off on its own. He eventually voted in favor of the measure.

“I get concerned because we had a bond that 20,000 people voted for that just failed by 400 votes. It was so close and there were so many projects on there. I want to make sure that we’re taking about the bigger picture when we’re starting to spend on these capital improvements,” Councilman Williams said.

Williams and his peers had few issues about the shade structures, which will cost $30,000 on average.

Most of the debate was reserved for the pickleball expansion and Tuesday’s crowd expected more. SPA club president Jeff Stone was prepared to speak at the meeting about the game’s popularity in all age groups and the club’s charitable efforts.

In the end, Mr. Stone said he was surprised this proposal did not come to a vote Jan. 3 and equally unsuspecting Tuesday night’s unanimous vote in favor.

“I was really surprised (in January). No one called on me to talk and it was probably a good thing they didn’t. They didn’t go through with the motion and vote on it, so everybody got more knowledge about it,” Mr. Stone said. “I didn’t think it was going to be 7-0. There was a lot of politicking going on back and forth.”

The plan does not have universal appeal. Former councilman Gary ‘Doc’ Sullivan said previous tournaments have not brought back the financial windfall to match the city’s investment.

“I’m going to talk to my attorney and see if I can stop this pickleball crap. $500,000 to build it and $32,000 a year to maintain it? And they provide nothing,” Mr. Sullivan said.

Resident Ed Hanzel and Mr. Stone tried to quantify what a 16-court facility will mean in terms of attracting tournaments and visitors. Mr. Hanzel said on a return trip to Arizona he and his family wanted to stay a night in St. George, Utah.

The rooms were booked so they headed down Interstate 15 to Mesquite, Nev., and only had a few rooms to choose from.

“They had an international pickleball tournament with teams from Finland, Sweden and Germany — from all over the place,” Mr. Hanzel said. “I asked Bob Wingenroth to contact the city managers of Mesquite and St. George.”

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